Should leaders always promote resilience?

The idea of resilience in the workplace is one that is both problematic and important. Leaders do have a need to improve their efforts on the resilience front – including targeted interventions like flexible work arrangements to things like paid leave and well-being resources. However it is important that at the same time they also remain vigilant to the downsides of this. It is important to not only understand but also address the pitfalls that can occur, and to know when they should, and should not, promote resilience.

Resilience pitfalls 

It is often considered that resilience is something that someone either has or doesn’t have and whilst it may be true that some individuals have “trait-like” stability to their resilience, that is the ability to demonstrate consistent levels of resilience over time, this is not always the case. When resilience is thought of this way the emphasis is placed on the employee and there is no consideration made to the support that an organisation should be providing. When there is an encouragement towards resilience with no accountability then it can result in burnout. 

Instead of thinking of resilience as a trait consider it to be a state that any employee is capable of attaining. This means creating environments that support resilience and proactively enable it. Employees need to feel that they can speak up and ask for the resources that they need in order to address any concerns that they might have. There are some circumstances however that it can be impossible to anticipate, such as the loss of a loved one or a period of severe illness and it is important that there are policies in place to address these situations as everyone’s resilience is different, and until these types of situation arise nobody knows how they will react. 

It should also be remembered that resilience should not be used as any form of replacement within the workplace, or indeed anywhere else for the removal of inequality. Anyone who has experienced any form of discrimination or racism should not be told to simply be more resilient, grow a thicker skin or “man-up”. The root cause of the issue should always be looked into in these types of cases. Every organisation should be creating a culture where acceptance, inclusion and diversity are the norms

Employees experiencing adversity shouldn’t be stigmatised

Positive emotions aid in the boosting of resilience, however, negative emotions do not, in fact, prohibit anyone from being resilient as well. When an individual is experiencing anxiety or is overwhelmed it is easy for them to be stigmatised and not look for the support that they need because they believe that they will be judged. Whilst this can become too much if a person is continually over-emotional, resilience is not an absence of negative emotions during difficult periods

Whilst leaders should promote some resilience in the workplace, it is important to understand that it is not always appropriate to do so, and each situation should be considered on its own merits before they decide which route they should take. 

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